There are a few indie games out there that really bear the moniker of something being legendary or even renown. Naturally, anything that represents the early days of indie footholds comes straight to mind: Braid, Super Meat Boy, even Fez, to a lesser extent. Those games that really helped break down the modern stigma about paying less for a title but actually expecting a decent product. By cutting out the middleman of big name publishers and distributors, suddenly it was possible to not go broke to get quality work, because the money you were paying went straight to the team. There’s a lot of people and choices that went into this, and, sure, maybe we’re in an indie deluge right now (the eShop is starting to strain under the weight of it all), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a classic to stop in and dusk off their boots for a while. And very few titles hold the same kind of weight or presence as Bastion, which has finally arrived on the Switch.
Bastion is the time-honored tale of the Kid, a nameless, voiceless protagonist who awakens at the start of the game after The Calamity, a world-ending disaster that’s killed countless and literally destroyed the landscape. Remembering talk of The Bastion, a safe haven where people should go after a cataclysm, the Kid makes his way there, meets Rucks (the narrator), and begins a series of quests to find the Cores. The crystalline Cores can be fed into the center of The Bastion, which then is able to recreate land masses and buildings, slowly reworking civilization one piece at a time. The Kid will find a handful of survivors of the Calamity, and realize that maybe there wasn’t any accident at work, just the same, awful fighting that’s existed around the world for centuries. Still, we always have a choice: learn from our mistakes, or be doomed to repeat them. The Kid has to make a decision, and it’ll ultimately shape the future of his world.
Bastion plays out as an action RPG with a really unique twist on perspective and presentation. Due to the Calamity, the world has been torn asunder, leaving massive gaps in the land and plenty of precarious platforms left to gingerly step upon. The Kid is able to move forward, and land will, essentially, rise up to meet him…if he’s going the right way. Bastion wants you to be curious and exploratory, but it also wants you to know that, if you go the wrong way, it’s going to tell you in a big, HP robbing sort of way. But don’t worry, fall damage isn’t the only kind of damage you’ll be suffering throughout this game. There are plenty of baddies who use a variety of attack patterns and ideas to really muck up your day. Some just charge at you in a feeble sort of way, and you can squash them with your iconic hammer or other melee weapon. Others try to pick you off from a distance, giving you a chance to either shoot back with one of several ranged weapons that you find or, potentially, reflect their projectiles back with a well-timed shield block. Others still use a variety of effects and things to screw up the landscape, making it toxic and damaging or even outright removing it so that, great, there are more places to fall through. This is all while trying to figure out which way to go and remembering, time after time, that you cannot jump, only dodge roll, and you won’t just magically clear gaps if the angle isn’t right.
The vantage point of the game actually works really well in the way everything is presented, as the isometric view gives credence and depth to the land as it appears. Sure, The Kid can’t leap, but he’s fast on his toes, and the city that died still has plenty left behind for him to use. You can find different (not better) weapons and, over time, trinkets that allow you to power them up and add different effects. Are you more of a wild, spreadshot kind of marksman, just hoping to hit something, or did you want to put all your eggs in one basket and make a single arrow count? Does the massive girth and power of the hammer speak to you most, or are you looking for something a bit faster, a bit crueler, but also weaker? Bastion allows you to customize The Kid in a way that makes the game play out best for you, and, best of all, you can theoretically make it all the way to the end relying on the original weapons you find. Sure, you have to pick up and use the ones you find along the way, but a quick trip back to The Bastion allows you to swap back to the original configuration.
Defeating enemies nets you a certain amount of EXP that will eventually allow you to level up, and this isn’t your normal take on level grinding and stat buffing. When you get a level (which takes a LOT of EXP), you get some more HP, sure, but you also get the opportunity to put another drink under your belt over at the distillery. These drinks are passive buffs that can aid you in a variety of ways, like increasing your health, adding some speed when you’re fully healed, bolstering your critical hits when you’re on the brink of death, and so on. You can swap these drinks out at any time, and this adds another layer of RPG and customizability to Bastion that you don’t find in a lot of traditional action RPGs. Enemies don’t spawn enough for proper grinding, but there’s also enough that you can choose between rushing by the majority or taking the time to beat them all down to get the EXP and the precious currency to afford weapon upgrades. Not to mention the satisfaction of when you get really into the combat system and find out how good you can be at the dodge, block and strike game. The Kid’s got some moves, but it’s up to you to use them properly.
Additionally, there are plenty of extra areas and bonuses that have to be discovered over time. There are lost altars to Gods that used to look down upon the land, and still do. You can choose to receive their blessing, which adds some extra difficulty in exchange for extra rewards, and you can toggle those off at any time. Feel free to mess around and figure out who you want looking down on your progress for maximum satisfaction and deity interaction. There are the Proving Grounds, which are weapon skill trials that are strewn about the overworld map and accessible from The Bastion. Head here and prove what a great marksman you are with various weapons to unlock even more upgrades, which, in turn, will let you get higher scores on the Proving Grounds. If you take a few minutes to bang these out, you’ll move forward with some mighty impressive buffs on your weapons, allowing you to really bring the pain to all the Gasfellas and other baddies that roam the shattered land (I’m a big musket person, personally). Lastly, back at the Bastion, you can take a hit off the smoking pipe that eventually shows up to head to Who Knows Where, an endurance match of sorts that gives you multiple waves of enemies to beat back while Rucks reflects a bit on what happened prior to this whole mess happening. If you can survive, you can get a pretty decent cache of cash, affording you more luxury with exploration and less grinding by destroying scenery and hoping for coin. Additionally, if you set the game to No-Sweat mode, you don’t have to worry about being beat to death during the challenge (or anywhere else in the game). Just know there is a certain satisfaction to setting the game to normal and knowing that the single death you encounter will be your last.
As anyone will tell you, the key to Bastion is the art and the sound, and boy, is there a ton of it. Bastion is a hand drawn love letter to action gaming, with these amazing creature designs and sad, fleeting glimpses into what the world was like before the Calamity struck. Seeing the broken remains of the cities, the pillars of ash that are shaped like the people who’ve died, the crumbling remnants of what once was….it’s borderline haunting. Bastion wants you to see that there was something here, beyond the pale and the pain, and that this isn’t a game about a post-apocalyptic future: it’s about remembering the lives we once lived, and trying to get back the good parts of all that again. So many games focus on rebuilding something new, something different in spite of the hurt. Bastion really wants to recapture what The Kid once had, and even offers the question: would you do it all again if it meant you might change things?
If you play the game on mute, you’re completely missing out on the greatest element of the entire journey, which is the sound. Yes, the soundtrack to Bastion is sweeping and multifaceted, capturing a wide berth of emotions that well up every time you enter a different area, from the hostile to the wastelands to the seeds of hope that still struggle to bloom in this awful area. Rucks, though, is worth the price of admission himself, and the game gives him the most magical voice, narrating almost every single choice and action you make. His velvety, dulcet tones add to the epic feeling of the quest, an omniscient voice that gives your actions purpose and direction. Even when you misstep off the side of a ledge or get caught in a world-tossing blow from a giant Gasfella, Rucks can’t help but quip up a bit of observation, reminding you who the hero is and why heroes aren’t perfect. You might not always feel assured in your actions, and, once you get into the second half of the game and learn about the source of the Calamity you might not feel assured about anything, but Rucks believes in you. That’s all you need sometimes.
This version of Bastion is easily my favorite to date. Far from being the only mobile version (hell, I think it was 99 cents on iOS at some point) this is one of the more definitive versions. You’ve got a very succinct but perfectly explanatory How To at the beginning, decent load times, a New Game + option and two different difficulty levels. This isn’t a touch screen play: you need tactile response, fast fingers and razor-thin latency (though you do NOT need the rumble, which is a mildly disappointing standard rumble and not HD). This is one of those fantastic voyages that you want to re-embark upon after completion, even if you have to wait a couple of years to clear the memory. You challenge yourself to only use a certain type of weapon, or to clear the game with different objectives in place (including the actual objectives the game challenges you to). Hell, overload on Gods and watch the game crank the damn meter to 11 as it punishes you from every corner. The Kid can take it, and so can you. If you’ve never played Bastion before, you need to finally get in on this and experience the whole challenging, beautifully tragic story. If you’ve played it before, well damn, you know what’s happening here. Why not come back for another spin?
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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